7 Ways to Advertise Your Business on a Shoestring

September 17, 2013

new businessVery few businesses can run strictly on referral business. In fact, if you have a startup business, there will be no referral business at all. Since most businesses need to advertise on an ongoing basis, how can you advertise your business on a shoestring?

1. Build your own website.

Having your own website is a virtual necessity for just about any business today. Even if people don’t find you through your website, they will commonly ask the question, “Can I check out your website?” If the answer to that question is anything other than yes it is highly likely that the prospect will go elsewhere.

At a minimum, a website is a source of credibility. Many businesses today no longer have a physical location that a customer can come to and check out. That makes having a website more important than ever.

The website is also a source of advertising. And since you need a website just as a matter of being in business, you can think of the advertising side as being a free add-on benefit.

Coded with the proper keywords, in combination with sufficient back-links from other credible websites, your website can draw a steady stream of potential customers.

It typically costs only a few hundred dollars per year to create and maintain a website, but this is one of the least expensive ways that you can advertise your business. And since it also acts as a touch point for your business, it will serve a dual purpose.

2. Add a business signature to your emails.

You probably send out dozens of emails each day. That makes this a potentially rich advertising source. You should have a business signature that automatically appears on any outgoing email, even those not related to business. The business signature simply lets the reader know that you are in business, complete with all the necessary contact information.

This is a way of advertising your services to people who you are in contact with on a regular basis. Think of it as a 21st Century equivalent of handing out business cards to everyone you meet. You’re contacting these people anyway through your emails, you may as well let them know that you’re in business. And doing so is completely free.

3. Try magnetic car signs.

Do you ever see those custom-designed vehicles that advertise a business? Think of the Oscar Meyer Weiner wagon. You don’t have to go to that extreme, but you can get a pair of inexpensive magnetic car signs to put on each side of your car. For about hundred dollars you could have a pair made up in a local print shop, such as Kinko’s.

In the course of a typical day, your car – and the attached magnetic signs – will be seen by literally hundreds of people. Though that may not bring in a flood of business, it will alert anyone out there who has a particular need for your product or service that you can help. This is an inexpensive way to reach a large number of people with your business message.

4. Pin ads to local bulletin boards.

If you are an upstart business, you should develop a professional looking flyer, and place it in as many locations as you can. Depending upon what type of business you have, you may want to post flyers in churches, grocery stores, laundromats, apartment complexes, college campuses, and any place else that will allow you to do so.

This is an inexpensive way to reach a large number of people on a daily basis. It is especially important to conduct advertising campaigns such as this since the majority people no longer read the local newspaper. And it will cost you no more than paper and printing costs, and gasoline needed to get you from one location to another.

5. Put your friends on commission.

This is one of the most effective ways to have “employees” without having ongoing payroll. Simply offer your friends either a percentage or flat amount as a referral fee for any customers or clients who they send your way. You might pay a friend a commission of $50 for a client who is worth $1,000 in revenue to your business. And since you are paying your friends, they’ll have all the incentive they need to sell you to people they meet.

Just be careful that in some businesses paying referral fees, commissions, bonuses, or compensation by any other name might be prohibited. For example, if you are in the mortgage business operating in most states in the country, such payments are illegal. Be sure there are no such restrictions in regards to your business.

6. Send periodic email blasts to your email contacts.

You probably have a fairly large email contact list, and it can be a valuable asset if you are trying to advertise your business. Though you probably don’t want to be sending ad material to your contact list too frequently, a periodic blast – say once every two or three months – probably won’t be too intrusive.

You don’t have to be too formal or even professional about this. All you need to do is send out a general email asking your contacts, “Who do you know who might need my services?” Sometimes the best marketing contacts you have are the ones in your own social circle. This is a way of letting people in that circle know that you’re in business, and to please refer anyone they know who may need your services.

7. Advertise on Craigslist.

To some people, Craigslist.org has a negative connotation. Just about everyone has a “Craigslist war story,” but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it as an advertising source if you have a business.

With the decline of local newspapers, we are also experiencing the disappearance of classified ads in the print media. Craigslist has become the primary worldwide cyber classifieds, and it is well worth looking into. Advertising on Craigslist is free, and any advertising source that is that large and is also free is one that should be considered on instinct.

It is Craigslist’s popularity that is also the source of some of the bad stories we hear. Anything that large and successful will have its share of scam operators. The majority of people advertising there are on the up and up – and you can be one of them. It’s a way of reaching customers and clients that you will not reach in any other way.

You can pay more for advertising – you can pay as much as you want – but if your business is new or struggling, any of the options above will be well worth considering. At least until you reach the point when you can pay big dollars for big advertising.

What ways will you start advertising your business?


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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2 Responses to 7 Ways to Advertise Your Business on a Shoestring

  • Kevin Mercadante

    Hi Maggie – That’s called building a sales force on the cheap. But who better to refer you customers than your friends? You can think of it as building business through community. You’ll get new customers and they’ll get paid for introducing you. That will probably insure a steady flow of new business.

  • Maggie@SquarePennies

    Great tips! I especially like the idea of paying your friends commission to bring business your way. That has to be a great way to get the word out about your business. I would not have thought of Craigslist, but why not? Thanks!